6 Leadership Lessons from the Costa Concordia Captain

Were there any leaders on the Costa Concordia?


No joke, I just got off a cruise ship today owned by the same company.  We watched the news updates of the Costa Concordia sinking while sailing on our ship off the coast of Cuba (see below).  It was not amusing.

After reading reports and watching various videos, I have some questions:

  • Why did the captain go to shore hours before the last passenger?
  • Why did they continue to tell the passengers it was merely an electrical issue?
  • Why was the evacuation so disorganized and delayed?


The answer is:  Leadership!


In this case, it was a lack of leadership.  Here are six lessons we can all take from this leadership debacle:

  1. It’s not “if” bad things will happen, but “when”.  We must always be prepared.
  2. When bad things happen, we must meet the challenges head on.  We cannot deny them.  We cannot hide from them.
  3. Leaders must care first about those under their care.  Will anyone follow that captain again when he gets out of jail?
  4. It’s okay to make mistakes.  It’s not okay to make people suffer or die covering them up.
  5. When everyone knows there’s a crisis, communication is key.  Silence creates more problems.
  6. If you don’t have a real leader, you must be the leader.  We need you!

What happened on the Costa Concordia is inexcusable.  It is wrong.  Someone must make the hard decisions.  Someone must communicate.

This wasn’t just a failure of the captain to lead in the moment.  It was also a failure of the captain to surround himself with real leaders.

Nobody had to die.

As I’ve said before, there is a place for bravery in a modern world.  Leaders must face their mistakes.  Leaders must be the first into danger and the last to leave it behind.

Leaders must speak clearly, honestly, and with strength to take scared followers and turn them into brave warriors as they face their own battles each step of the way.

Let’s learn from this.

Have a safe night,


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Costa Concordia Videos

Announcement that it’s only an electrical problem as crew members walk around with life jackets on. (Raw footage)

News report about the Costa Concordia captain

Published by Aaron Biebert

I'm a director, film/video exec producer, leader & 8pm Warrior. I am passionately chasing my goals at all times. I'm listening. Let's talk!

14 comments on “6 Leadership Lessons from the Costa Concordia Captain”

  1. Aaron. This is a great post. Unfortunate that you had such a moving stimulus to write it. 

    I think the Leadership debacle goes even further. I would bet this captain had had issues in the past that pointed out his overt or potential failings as a leader. And I bet the company (or some one AT the company) knew about it. Perhaps they said-it wasn’t a big deal, since no one was hurt or killed. Or perhaps it was hidden from the ultimate company leaders. I hope that is not the case, but I know that real leadership cannot be hidden, and likewise the absence of real leadership is visible. We must have the courage to act once we notice it is absent. Lives can be at risk.

    1. Hi Alice, thanks for great insights.  I like how you say that real leadership cannot be hidden, and absence of real leadership is visible.  Brilliant!

      Now if only all leaders had the bravery to do something when they find a “leader” under their umbrella who shouldn’t be there…

      Thanks Alice!

  2. Aaron, you really captured the true lessons from this unnecessary tragedy…effective and qualified leadership is the key. I would say that for most people, even the best of leaders, @twitter-298299421:disqus 2 is probably the hardest and yet, perhaps, one of the most important…we can not deny or hide from bad things when they happen…if we face the bad things head on, it makes the other five points more achievable. 
    Thank you Aaron.  I hope that you were able to enjoy your time away with your family!

    1. hahaha…I don’t know this happened, but somehow @twitter-298299421:disqus ‘s name got entered into my post above…ironically, Alice, your name got placed in an interesting sentence….you are, apparently, one of the best leaders ;-)  I have no doubt that this is true ;-)
      Sorry for my faux pas! 

    2. Claudia, thanks for the support and additional insight.  I would agree that #2 is probably the hardest.  

      We don’t teach bravery in school.  In fact, we might discourage it.

      As for Alice, she is a great leader.  ;-)

      Thanks for the comment Claudia!


      PS.  Had a great time with the family.  Needed it.

  3. What a story! If it were a movie, you’d say it was unrealistic. I think the Captain in this case just panicked. And, he was scared and ran. Where he thought he could run to is the question? Sad for the truly unnecessary loss of life! Brave underwater divers going in there looking for survivors now – huh?

  4. Aaron,

    You’ve done it again! I teach No. 1, No. 2 and No. 5 when I teach public relations. You can’t avoid bad things happening, so you need to plan ahead for them. You also can’t pretend like they’re  not happening. Instead, communication with the parties impacted becomes critical. 

    I wonder if this issue of “leaders” who just look out for themselves is a product of our current “every man for himself” society. It’s just terribly sad, in my opinion. 

    Thanks for another fabulous read!


    1. Kenna, the captain and cruise line probably need your help right now.  As for our society…I hope we all learn from this.  We can’t let this way of thinking expand.

      It’s too dangerous.

  5. It’s sad that this kind of things happens. It seems like the captain it wasn’t a good leader. He should take the right decisions, to be aware of problems like this, but unfortunately he didn’t. It’s a great lesson for all of us. Thank you so much for this article.

  6. This event has raised so many issues at so many levels.
    The recent recording of the primary contact with the coast guard is a very disturbing revalation of the empathy of the crew with the captain.
    A refusal by all involved to accept the reality of the situation.
    Just as politicians, the military and police close ranks in a cock up, the junior officers on the ship would not make the obvious decicsion to stand up and call a mayday.
    It can only be a miracle that the ship turned to shore and grounded on the same rocks that ripped its belly, and did not turn over in the channel, with the loss of so many more.
    The prosecution of the captain, and his pathetic break-down is irrelevant in the long run. The priority must be to understand the culture that the captain developed onboard and how he was allowed to get away with it.
    Leadership of a large ship has not been in the hands the captain since the Titanic.

    1. Yes Andrew, that is a great point.  It’s not the one man we should be most concerned about.  The culture is/was the problem.

      Someone should have stood up.  Someone should have done what was needed.

  7. While I was preparing a presentation on leadership, I was
    searching about a meaningful picture of Costa Concordia sinking ship as an
    example of the lack of leadership.. What a condescendence to find your
    interesting post!

    I want to ask your permission to use this picture in my
    presentation. Waiting for your reply.

    Thanks for the insightful read!

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